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- Influencers listed brand sponsorships, paid advertising, and affiliate marketing as their top sources of revenue in a survey of 69 digital stars by the platform Influence.co.
- Influence.co’s results were gathered at the start of 2020, before major events like the coronavirus pandemic had transformed the consumer and media landscapes.
- But its results show how a diversification of the influencer economy has helped creators continue to earn money during an economic downturn.
- Click here to sign up for Business Insider’s influencer newsletter: Influencer Dashboard.
While sponsored posts have long been at the heart of the influencer economy, digital stars have myriad ways to make money that don’t involve promoting a brand on their accounts.
A survey of 69 influencers conducted earlier this year by the influencer platform Influence.co highlighted the many sources of revenue available to creators in 2020.
Influence.co’s results were gathered in January, before the coronavirus pandemic began to transform the consumer and media landscape. But the variety of non-advertising revenue sources already in place at the start of the year has helped some creators weather the financial fallout from brands cutting budgets as a cost-saving measure during the economic downturn.
Brand sponsorships were the top moneymaker among Influence.co’s survey respondents, with 78% of creators calling it a main source of revenue. Fifty-eight percent of creators listed revenue-per-view ad programs, like YouTube’s AdSense, as a top source of income, a category that has dropped off in recent weeks as advertiser demand has fizzled during the pandemic.
Influencers have had to diversify away from sponsored posts in 2020 as brands have halted or postponed influencer campaigns. Some creators have leaned on alternative revenue streams that don’t rely on advertising to avoid volatility across the industry, including digital-product and merchandise sales and affiliate marketing.
Forty-one percent of survey takers named commissions-based revenue as a top income driver, and 39% listed affiliated marketing. These are income sources in which a creator is paid a fee for e-commerce sales they drive from their social accounts. Twenty-six percent of respondents pointed to physical-merchandise sales as a top source of income.
Here’s the full breakdown of income sources that influencers listed as a primary revenue streams in Influence.co’s survey:
3. Commissions (41%) and affiliate marketing (39%)
Affiliate marketing has long been a popular revenue source for fashion and lifestyle influencers on Instagram, tech reviewers on YouTube, and media publishers like Insider, Vox Media, and The New York Times (which generates affiliate income on its review site, TheWirecutter.com).
Creators can earn money from commissions on sales, in which they get paid for sales generated through a promotional code, and affiliate marketing, in which they promote sales with a swipe-up or trackable link provided by companies like RewardStyle and SmartCommerce.
About 40% of influencer respondents to the survey named commissions or affiliate marketing as primary sources of revenue (41% said commissions were a primary source, and 39% named affiliate marketing).
The category saw a bump in revenue in March as many brick-and-mortar stores shuttered and companies shifted their focus to e-commerce sales to abide by shelter-in-place policies.
But the category’s rise has been mixed in 2020. In April, some brands began to suspend some of their programs, including companies like Macy’s, Patagonia, Victoria’s Secret, and Walmart.
Read more about affiliate marketing here:
4. Event appearances (29%)
Event appearances and live speaking engagements are ways some YouTube creators have diversified their businesses.
For the influencers studied, 29% said event appearances were a top revenue source.
Amy Landino, an entrepreneur and YouTube creator with 379,000 subscribers, told Business Insider in January that speaking engagements were “a very big revenue stream for me.” Landino shares advice on productivity, vlogging, and how to “go after the life you want,” she said.
Other YouTube creators, like David Dobrik (17 million subscribers) and Ruby Asabor (170,000 subscribers) have presented at events for universities around the US.
Asabor is a motivational speaker, she told Business Insider in February, and she has presented at universities like NYU and Rutgers.
But live events and college tours have been canceled in recent weeks over the coronavirus.
Asabor said in a recent YouTube video that her business had changed a lot since the pandemic started, and the speaking engagements she would have attended this spring were all postponed.
Read more on influencers who earn revenue through event appearances:
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7. Follower donations (6%)
Six percent of respondents to Influence.co’s survey said donations from followers were a primary source of revenue in 2020.
Influencers receive donations from followers through membership platforms like Patreon and Buy Me a Coffee, or livestream “gifting” features on social platforms.
Facebook announced in April that it was expanding the rollout of its “Stars” monetization program — a system in which fans can send virtual stars to a livestreaming creator that are worth $0.01 each.
TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube already offer similar features whereby users can donate to influencers in real time.
Some larger creators have built out membership programs to encourage followers to sign up for recurring donations.
The YouTube content company FBE recently relaunched its “FBE Super” membership program, offering three paid tiers for fans interested in contributing either $5, $10, or $20 a month to receive access to exclusive livestreams, merchandise discounts, and even the opportunity to be cast in episodes. The company is using Patreon’s Memberful platform.
Read more about follower donations here:
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